Starbucks – Time to do the hard thing

There was an outcry over the recent actions of Starbucks team members. In one instance the barista called the police on two men who were waiting for a friend and in the other case the barista refused to issue the bathroom key to a man. In both instances, the men were identified as black.
Starbucks immediately responded. The leadership apologised and shortly thereafter team members from 8,000 stores attended racial bias training.

From these events I conclude Starbucks leadership empowers frontline staff. They trust the staff to make decisions and to act on decisions made, without seeking permission. As a result, the baristas made decisions about who were allowed access and who were not. Why? Because that is the way that Starbucks does things. It is its culture.

By extension, I conclude that if two separate employees can authoritatively discriminate against two different black males, with no fear of recourse, in two distinct circumstances, then at Starbucks, this is the way that black males are treated. It is its culture.

Company culture is reflected in what is done and deemed acceptable at the very lowest levels of an organisation. Culture is demonstrated by the actions of the persons whom are away from the mikes, away from the glitz and glamour and who will never grace the cover of the Forbes and Fortune 500. These are the people who tell the world exactly what your company stands for and its core values.

A well written apology in sincere tones and  racial bias training sessions are great first steps for the leaders to say to staff that this is not whom we are. Yet we know that words have no meaning without context, and that if leaders do not reinforce the training then it goes to naught.

Starbucks’ leaders have done the right thing, now Starbucks’ leaders need to do the hard thing. Leaders at all levels of the organisation need to self reflect, to be honest in admitting the current culture and to determine how the company should move forward. Whatever the decision, leaders need to ensure that the operations are realigned to actively support what is espoused.

I offer Starbucks leaders the following questions to begin the process:

  • Where are black males In Starbucks?
  • How do we treat with black males in the Starbucks?
  • What are the things that are said about black males in Starbucks?
  • What are the things that are not said about black males in Starbucks?
  • What sort of jokes are made about black males ?
  • What is the our policy and procedure for reporting discrimination?
  • What does the data from these policies indicate to us?
  • Are we satisfied that the policies work or are easy to use or are being used?
  • How do we discourage micro-aggression?
  • How do we educate non- POC (people of color) about micro-aggression?
  • What are the black voices within Starbucks saying on this matter?
  • What conversations do we have on race?

For the rest of us leaders, the the lesson is clear – Culture is what our staff does. What  our staff does tells the world what our culture is..

What is your company’s culture? What does your staff do that isn’t aligned to your culture? What are you going to do about it?
If you want to change your company culture and ensure that staff behaviours are aligned to your core values then drop me a line. I can help.

(photo credits :Trinichow)

Words have Meaning

I love words. I doodle with them. I take them apart – shredding bigger words into smaller pieces. I appreciate the art of double entendre and I get a kick out of homophones. Words are a load of fun.
Last week I held my breath as two creative minds dabbled in word play over my blog post. I thoroughly  enjoyed their arguments and marveled at their wit.
It’s not with any stretch of the imagination that this week I am thinking about words and how we make meaning of them.

We communicate with words in organizations. They share our Vision and Mission. We hang them as core values on our office walls and they become performance yardsticks ( or big sticks) as we evaluate behaviors.

Organizations spend a lot of time and money crafting these words, yet, when I work with leaders and teams and ask, “What do these words  mean?” The responses are never loud, the answers are never certain.

The meaning of words is constructed daily, deconstructed and reconstructed to bring new meaning and nuance. Words are also contextual, they shift shape and take their forms from us.  Think about it – in the 1960’s the word gay expanded its meaning to include sexual orientation and bling was entered into the Oxford dictionary in 2002.

While dictionaries provide definitions they often do not indicate how words play out in our everyday life. It is you, it is I, it is we, who through our interactions, our experiences and the tapestry of our lives who give words life.

When I think of the word share, I understand how organizations get words wrong. Share is defined as inter alia “have a portion of (something) with another or others” Oxford Dictionary.

Families A and B both agree with this definition and have decided that they want their families to share. They believe that it is a value that will lead to a Happy Household and make the Living Easy.
As a member of Family A if I want to borrow my sister’s dress, then I can use it. If I see a piece of chocolate, and I want it, then I can have it.
As a member of Family B If I want to borrow my sister’s dress, then I ask her permission. She can grant or deny permission, and  I will abide. If I see a piece of chocolate and I want it, then I find the owner, and ask  permission. The owner can grant or deny permission, and I will abide.
Both families have successfully instilled the virtue of sharing within their households and both families are happy with the outcome – Happy Household and Easy Living.
Both families share and each shares differently.
In Family A sharing is based on the need of the commons. Once the resource exists within the family you are free to share in it.
In family B, sharing is permission based. If you are not the owner of the resource  then you need to be granted permission to share in it.
Neither family is right or wrong, each has constructed a contextual meaning of sharing, that serves the family well.

It’s not a problem for the rest of us either, until the day that members from  both families work in an organization that espouses Sharing as a core value.

Then what?

I love words. I know their power. I know how important it is to establish one shared meaning of the words that we use in our organizations.

What do the words in your organization mean? Are you certain that the meaning is shared by each and every one?

If your organization needs help defining its core values, and establishing shared meaning among team members, then  contact me. I know words and I can help.

Five reasons to fire a client

I fired a client today and my soul rejoiced.
I was hired to complete a project that was stalled for two years. This was a good contract. The work was challenging, the duration was to year end and the contract price would comfortably cover all my expenses well into the new year. It seemed serendipitous since I declared the week before that I needed a client to see me through the end of the year. Like a lot of good things in my life, this contract was effortlessly attained. A third party introduced us, the client, his staff and I had several meetings, I submitted a proposal, we signed a contract and I started to work.
When the work started, I started observing the client’s behaviour, listening to the staff and seeing patterns emerge. Slowly, I became aware that this was not the client for me, not did I want to serve the client, he was just not the client for me. As I reflect on the experience I realised that there were signs all along that shouted at me, even though I took a few weeks to listen to the messages.

Client has a pattern of changing consultants– When I reviewed the artefacts left behind by the previous consultants, I noticed that the client half-answered or evaded questions about the the same dubious practices. When I reviewed the files, I noticed that there were several references and recommendations about the same issues, which voided the argument that the client’s practices were due to ignorance.

The client’s business partners are not your type – Even though I was not directly doing business with the client’s partners, they were not people that I wanted to associate with or be associated with. Professional circles are small and the client notified several of his external stakeholders about my involvement in the project. Therefore by association I would be seen as dealing with the same characters as my client was.

Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde – My client presented a squeaky clean image, spoke a lot about God, and was polite and reverent in his responses to me. Yet the documents and his dealings with staff told a different story. The data did not line up with the client’s version of the truth, and the staff told tales of a short tempered man, who was harsh in his criticisms. The staff confessed that they were only staying for the duration of the project since they believed that they would benefit from interacting with me.

You bring the client home – When my sister confronted me and said, “ You talk about him a lot,” I realised that even though I was not complaining, the client, the staff and the staff’s tales were weighing heavily on my mind. I was not happy with the situation.

Forget about the money – Ah the money. It’s hard to ignore the lure of a pay-cheque when you’re not seeing another to replace it. I had to instruct myself “ Pretend that there is no money. Will you want to work with the client?” When I answered a resounding, “No”. I knew that it was time to remove myself from that equation.

It’s not about me – It is hard for me to walk away from a client, because I’ve been trained to complete what I have started, and to give service when it is needed. I sincerely believe that the collective intelligence and creativity (of me and my clients) are enough to solve almost any problem and that most people want to do better, and will do better once shown how.  This client reminded me that it’s not just about me. Regardless of my principles , my vision and my purpose I have to accept that people are entitled to their own agendas. Therefore when the client’s agenda does not mesh with mine I can make some choices – change my agenda to mesh with his, stay and promote my agenda or leave. In this case I chose to leave.

What clients do you need to fire? What would you do differently if the money was not part of your decision?

Maxine Attong is the author of two books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win. She works with leaders to create more effective and efficient organisations. She is a Keynote Speaker, a Gestalt Organisational Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitation, Evidence Based Coach and a Certified Accountant.

And the survey says….

The Human Resources Manager hosted a Town Hall to share the results of the recently concluded  #EmployeeEngagementSurvey. He entered the room with great flair and seemed just as excited as we, since it was the first time that such a survey was conducted. My excitement waned after his opening remarks, “I’ve heard complaints about the company, but the survey says…”
As he shared the scores, he told the audience that the survey results placed the complainers in the minority, and  perceived problems were not supported by the survey results. As I squirmed in my chair, I noticed that my colleagues seemed equally uncomfortable with his performance.  After the meeting, we huddled and were left with two questions:

  1. How were the results tabulated?
  2. What do the results mean?

How were the results tabulated?
How would you interpret the results for the question:

Do you understand the impact of the 2017 strategy on your job?

The survey scores questions on a range of 1 – 5.  ( 5 being the highest score for the question asked and 1 being the lowest.) The results:

  • 40% of staff answer with a 5 – which means that they understand,
  • 10% of staff answer with a 1 – which means that they do not understand
  • 50% of staff respond with a 3 – which means that they understand to some extent

The results can be interpreted as:

  • 90% of staff understand the impact of the 2017 strategy on the job. or
  • 40% of the staff understand the impact of strategy, 60% do not.

Which of the interpretations accurately reflect the situation?

I caution against the use of  median results to buffer and tabulate better engagement scores. These scores are often not positive indicators of engagement – they may represent neutrality or ambivalence or lack of interest about the 2017 strategy, or a feeling that the strategy is separate from my job or some other meaning. Unless there is shared meaning about median scores, these cannot be seen as positive purveyors of engagement

What do the results mean?
Survey results communicate the level of #EmployeeEngagement to the company. Though the numbers provide data, there is need for a shared understanding of what the scores reflect.

I always meet with staff – by departments/ teams – after the survey results, to understand what the results mean.  At these meetings, I aim to spend 95% of the time listening to staff explain the reasons behind the scores and clarifying what is shared. I have heard the reasons for high scores as:

  • I understand the strategy,
  • I did not want to rock the boat,
  • I don’t believe the survey is anonymous/or I fear retribution,
  • I did not want to seem stupid.

Low scores may also reflect – that

  • The strategy is not understood,
  • A different interpretation of the questions,
  • The impact of a recent event,
  • Misunderstandings of past situations
  • A lack of interest in the question
  • The question is not seen as relevant

While these meetings do not change the scores, they give good insight into:

  • The meaning of the scores,
  • What needs to be addressed to change the score,
  • Pointers to address with staff before the next engagement survey
  • How some questions may need to be restated at the next survey.

Even though companies with a longer tradition of performing engagement surveys have less interpretation problems with the survey questions, the need to understand what is behind the scores remains the same.

While the score itself is important, it becomes even more relevant, when everyone clearly understands the thinking behind the scores.

As I reflect on the Town Hall, I am still left with the image of the gleeful HR Manager juxtaposed with the staff shuffling out of the meeting room. The results were seen as a validation of Employee Engagement efforts even though no attempts were made to understand what the results meant.  The high scores (which may have included middle scores) were enough for him.

What does your company do after the engagement survey results have been tabulated?

Maxine Attong is an Organisational Development Consultant, Business and Life Coach, Speaker and Author. Check out my website www.maxineattong.com to learn more about me.

P.S. Save the date – March 15,2017, Kapok Hotel. Breakfast seminar: Maximising Human Capital in the New Economy.